Long Lost ‘Damaskin’ Manuscript from 1745 Discovered in Bulgaria’s Troyan Monastery

The 260-year-old Troyan Damaskin manuscript was lost in the 1960s, and has been rediscovered more than 50 years later. Photo: BTA

A valuable Bulgarian religious book, a manuscript known as a “damaskin”, written in 1745 has been found during a cleanup at the Troyan Monastery in Central North Bulgaria.

Damaskins are Bulgarian books, manuscripts from the 16th-19th, containing collections of homilies, sermons, and saint biographies (and even short stories and historical accounts) written in vernacular Bulgarian, rather than literary Old Bulgarian (also known as Church Slavonic).

The name of the damaskin manuscript books come from the name of Damaskinos Stouditis (Damascenus Studites) (ca. 1500 – 1577), a Greek cleric and writer (even though the word’s etymology is connected with the name of the city of Damascus in Syria).

Damaskinos’ most popular work, the Thesauros, containing 36 sermons based on passages from the Bible, was published in Venice in 1558.

This book became the first “damaskin" after it was translated into Bulgarian by Bishop Grigoriy Prilepski (Gregory of Prilep) in the Holy Trinity skete of the Great Lavra Monastery on Mount Athos, (the autonomous peninsula in Greece which is home to 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries).

A valuable 18th century manuscript of a damaskin has been discovered during a cleanup in the west wing of the Troyan Monastry, Bulgaria’s third largest monastery, its Farther Superior Sioniy has announced, as cited by BTA.

As the manuscript book itself mentions, its title, “The Troyan Damaskin" and the fact that it was written in 1745. (At that time, Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, a period known in Bulgarian history as the Ottoman Yoke (1396/1422 – 1878/1912).)

The Troyan Damaskin has actually been rediscovered since it used to be part of the monastery library but went missing in the 1960s.

The manuscript originally had about 200 pages but some of the first pages are missing, and only 175 pages have been preserved.

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A page from the rediscovered Troyan Damaskin. Photo: BTA

According to monastery Father Superior Sioniy, the manuscript is richly decorated with illustrations conveying a high level of orthography and craftsmanship.

“The damaskin manuscript book contains sermons from the Orthodox Christian world. It features sermons by St. John of Damascus and other pious fathers," Sioniys says.

“These damaskins were usually used as reading materials in the monastery dining hall, during religious vigils, and for personal reading by the monks and the enlightened Christians," he elaborates.

Pages from the rediscovered Troyan Damaskin. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

In his words, the book was written by a well-educated monk. It bears no author’s signature. At the time, books were copied by hand. Printing became prevalent in Bulgaria only in the 19th century, at the height of the Bulgarian National Revival leading up to Bulgaria’s Liberation from Ottoman Turkey at the end of the century.

The newly discovered 18th century manuscript has been sent to Bulgaria’s National Museum of History in Sofia in order to be cleaned up. After that, it will be exhibited on display at the Troyan Monastery which is a popular destination for both pilgrims and local and foreign tourists.

Other valuable items such as religious vessels and books which have also been discovered in the west wing of the Troyan Monastery will also be exhibited for pilgrims and visitors.

Learn more about the Troyan Monastery in the Background Infonotes below!

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The Troyan Monastery is the third largest in Bulgaria. Photo: BGNES

Background Infonotes:

The Monastery “Dormition of the Holy Mother of God", more popularly known as the Troyan Monastery, is a Bulgarian Orthodox monastery located near the town of Oreshaka and 10 km away from the town of Troyan in Central North Bulgaria.

The Troyan Monastery lies on the bank of the Cherni Osam River, in the Balkan Mountains.

It is deemed to be the third largest monastery in Bulgaria after the Rila Monastery and the Bachkovo Monastery.

Up until accidental archaeological discoveries in December – January 2017, it was believed that the Troyan Monastery was established ca. 1600. (At that time, Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, a period known in Bulgarian history as the Ottoman Yoke (1396/1422 – 1878/1912).)

Since the 17th century, the Troyan Monastery has been home to the holy icon of the Three-Handed Mother of God, i.e. Virgin Mary.

There is a legend partly based on monastery records that the icon of the Three-Handed Virgin was brought to the monastery by a monk from the Hilandar Monastery on Mouth Athos (the autonomous peninsula in Greece which is home to 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries) on his way to Wallachia north of the Danube.

According to the legend, the Troyan Monastery was started by two monks, or, rather, a hermit and a follower of his.

The monk bringing the miraculous icon of the Three-Handed Virgin from Mouth Athos as a present for his relatives in Wallachia was passing by, and heard about the hermit and his follower, and decided to visit them.

The visiting monk, allegedly craving for greater freedom, refused to stay with the hermit in spite of being invited to join him. But every time he tried to leave, his horse would trip. He figured out that the icon did not want to leave the place, and, shedding lots of tears, parted with it.

There have also been unconfirmed claims that when monks from Mount Athos arrived to the location of today’s Troyan Monastery, there had already been other monks living in there in the ruins of a monastery destroyed during the Ottoman invasion of the Second Bulgarian Empire at the end of the 14th century. These claims cite as evidence the discoveries of crosses and apses hacked into the rocks inside nearby caves.

Before Bulgaria’s liberation from the Ottoman Empire, especially in the 18th century, the Troyan Monastery was attacked and ransacked by armed bands a number of times.

The original 17th century church of the monastery dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary was a wooden one. A stone church was built ca. 1780.

Today’s main church of the Troyan Monastery was opened in 1835. Its murals were painted in 1847-1849 by Zahari (Zahariy) Zograf (1810-1853), the most famous icon painter from Bulgaria’s National Revival Period (18th-19th century). Zahari Zograf painted his self-portrait on the northern wall of the church as well as a version of his famous mural “The Wheel of Life" (also translated as “The Cycle of Life" or the “The Circle of Life") from the Transfiguration Monastery near the city of Veliko Tarnovo in Central North Bulgaria.

In the 18th and 19th century, the monks of the Troyan Monastery produced several original literary works such as the long lost Troyan Damaskin which was rediscovered in 2014.

Damaskins are Bulgarian books, manuscripts from the 16th-19th century, containing collections of homilies, sermons, and saint biographies (and even short stories and historical accounts) written in vernacular Bulgarian, rather than Old Bulgarian (also known as Church Slavonic).

The name of the damaskin books is derived from the name of Damaskinos Stouditis (Damascenus Studites) (ca. 1500 – 1577), a Greek cleric and writer (even though the word’s etymology is connected with the name of the city of Damascus in Syria).

Damaskinos’ most popular work, the Thesauros, containing 36 sermons based on passages from the Bible, was published in Venice in 1558.

This book became the first “damaskin" after it was translated into Bulgarian by Bishop Grigoriy Prilepski (Gregory of Prilep) in the Holy Trinity skete of the Great Lavra Monastery on Mount Athos, (the autonomous peninsula in Greece which is home to 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries).

The Troyan Monastery has two sketes (isolated monk dwellings) – one established in 1785 and located 1 km away, and a second one built in 1832 and located 8 km away.

The monastery’s five-floor bell tower was built in 1866. Parts of it was demolished in 1898 but were restored in 1987.

The Troyan Monastery was a seat of one of the secret revolutionary committees preparing an armed uprising against Ottoman Turkey which were founded all over Bulgaria by revolutionary and national hero Vasil Levski (1837-1873), and today the monastery features a museum dedicated to Levski.

It was originally believed that the monastery did not participate in the Bulgarians’ most famous rebellion against the Ottomans, the April Uprising of 1876, because there were Ottoman troops quartered there at the time. However, the 2017 discovery of two monks’ skulls with an inscription mentioning 1876 cast doubt over this original hypothesis.

The late head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Maxim (1914-2012, Patriarch in 1971-2012), a native of the town of Oreshaka, is buried at Troyan Monastery.

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